In Absolutely Almost [Philomel, $16.99], my most recent children's novel, nothing pains struggling reader Albie more than attempting to plow through the copy of Johnny Tremain that his well-meaning mother has thrust at him. ("If I tried to read Johnny Treeface again," he worries at one point, "it would probably kill me. And I definitely didn't want to be dead from a book.") Fortunately, Albie eventually discovers that there are some books out there that aren't deadly -some of them are even (gasp!) fun.
Do you have a kid like Albie who would rather eat Brussels sprouts than read a single page of "fine literature?" Here are ten amazing books -- some well-known, others less so -- sure to grab even the most reluctant of readers.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Troublemakers George and Harold accidentally hypnotize their principal, turning him into a crime-fighting superhero named Captain Underpants, who wears (appropriately enough) little more than underpants. With lots to giggle at in both the text and illustrations, this stupendously silly book has garnered legions of fans. Best of all, there's a whole series to satisfy kids once they've caught the reading bug.
Hamster and Cheese: Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye by Colleen AF Venable; illustrated by Stephanie Yue
The first in a series, this graphic novel for the younger set stars Sasspants, a guinea pig detective, who attempts to crack the case of a stolen sandwich, with the help of her fellow residents at Mr. Venezi's pet shop. A healthy dose of mystery, silliness, and fun animal facts squeezed into a short, easy-to-digest package.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Tommy and his classmates attempt to determine whether school weirdo Dwight can, in fact, communicate with his origami Yoda finger puppet (yes, that would be the Yoda of Star Wars fame). If the premise sounds loopy, that's because it is--delightfully so. Young readers will adore Origami Yoda's surprisingly sage advice on everything from pop quizzes to what to do if you accidentally wet your pants. Several follow-up novels offer even more laughs and wisdom.
The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow
Decidedly uncool BFFs Lydia and Julie take popularity into their own hands by researching their way to the A-list. Presented as a scrapbook--complete with letters, found objects, and copious illustrations--we learn exactly what not to do on the path to popularity (let's just say a dye job goes incredibly wrong). Readers reluctant to part ways with the goofy girls needn't fear--several sequels provide many more hijinks.
Boys are Dogs by Leslie Margolis
Annabelle is having trouble handling the unruly boys at her new co-ed school, until she realizes she can use the same techniques she's learned to tame her new puppy in order to wrangle them. This delightful, quick read is as full of heart as it is fun. There are three sequels and, as an added bonus, the Disney Channel movie adaptation of the first novel (re-titled Zapped, and starring teen actress Zendaya) premieres this summer.
A Tale Dark and Grim by Adam Gidwitz
This isn't your grandma's Hansel and Gretel story--more like your great-great-great-grandma's. In a surprisingly funny throwback to the original tellings of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, Gidwitz doesn't shy away from blood, gore, and yes, even beheadings. The novel weaves together several Grimm stories, some more obscure and grisly than others, and does so with a wink and a smile that child readers, so often coddled, will appreciate. Two follow-ups delve even deeper into the world of Grimm.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
If your kid is up for something really creepy, look no further than this thin gem of a novel (adapted into an excellent stop-motion movie in 2009). When young Coraline travels through a secret doorway in her family's new house, she discovers a home exactly like hers--except that her "Other Mother" and "Other Father" have buttons for eyes, and, oh yeah, they're incredibly spooky and want to trap Coraline in their world forever. A read-in-a-single-breathless-sitting-with-all-the-lights-on sort of book.
Follow Your Heart: Summer Love by Jill Santopolo
A perfect beach read for the pre-teen looking for an innocent summer romance, this ingenious "Choose Your Own Adventure"-style novel allows readers to select their own ending (and dreamy love interest!) from thirteen possible choices. Since the storyline varies depending on the reader's whims, it's an excellent pick both for kids who like to tackle books in short spurts, and those who would rather obsessively pore over every conceivable outcome.
The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab
After Ariel's blowout birthday party at the family mansion turns into a literal hostage crisis, Ariel retreats into the secret passageways in the walls while her ex-best friend, Sera, must use her wits to keep herself and her classmates alive. Told in alternating points of view, this action-packed thriller pulls no punches, keeping readers on the edges of their seats until the very end.
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy
One of the few humans left on Earth after an alien invasion, sixteen-year-old Cassie fends for her life in a post-apocalyptic world where basic resources are scarce, and no one can be trusted. It's kill or be killed in this nonstop ride of a novel that will have your teen up way past bedtime.
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